Breast cysts are sacs inside the breast, full of fluid. The breast cysts are commonly not cancerous. A female can have one or more breast cysts which can even happen in one or both the breasts. They are often described as round or oval-shaped lumps with distinct edges. A breast cyst may feel soft and subtle like a water-filled balloon, or can also feel firm and hard. Breast cysts do not require any kind of treatment until a cyst is large or is readily observed to be increasing in size and gets painful or uncomfortable. In such cases, draining the fluid from a breast cyst can give some relief from the symptoms.
Breast cysts are common among females before their menopause, most commonly between ages 35 to 50. But they can also be found in a female of any age. They can also occur in women past the menopause while taking hormone therapy.
- Breast cysts can be found on one or both breasts at the same time. Common signs and symptoms of breast cysts include:
- A soft and smooth oval-shaped lump with distinct edges which can be easily moved. This factor usually indicates that it is cancerous.
- Nipple discharge which may be clear, yellow or dark brown in color.
- Pain or tenderness in the breasts, especially in the area of the breast lump
- Increase in the size of the breast lump and breast tenderness before the beginning of the menstrual cycle.
- Reduced size of breast lump and relief from other symptoms right after the period ends.
Having one or multiple breast cysts does not increase the risk of breast cancer. But having such cysts can make it more difficult to diagnose new breast lumps or other changes which might need to be checked by the doctor. Be careful with how your breasts feel normally so that you can easily know when there are some changes.
When to visit a doctor
Normal breast tissues feel lumpy. But if you feel or suspect any new breast lumps which persist right after your period cycle, or if an existing lump increases in size or has other changes, you should visit your doctor right away.
Each of the breasts has lobes of glandular tissue which are arranged like the petals of a daisy flower. The lobes are then further divided into smaller lobules which serve the purpose of producing milk during pregnancy and breast-feeding. The supporting tissues which give shape to the breasts are made up of fatty tissue and fibrous connective tissue. Breast cysts develop because of fluid accumulation inside the glands of the breasts.
Breast cysts can be defined and classified by their size:
- Microcysts- They are very small to feel, and can be seen during imaging tests, like mammography or ultrasound.
- Macrocysts- They are larger in size and can be felt easily upon touching. These can grow to a size of about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) in diameter. Large breast cysts can exert pressure on the surrounding breast tissues, causing pain or discomfort.
The exact reason for the causes of breast cysts is not known. The breast cysts may develop because of hormonal changes due to menstruation cycles each month. Some cases of breast cysts suggest that excess of estrogen in the body, which can stimulate the breast tissue and also contribute to the occurrence of breast cysts.
After discussing the symptoms and medical history with the doctor, the doctor may do a breast exam and may suggest a diagnostic mammogram or a breast ultrasound. Based on the results of the clinical breast exam and imaging tests, the patient may need fine-needle aspiration or a breast biopsy treatment. Treatment options completely vary as per the results of the tests.
The doctor will physically examine the breast lump and also check for any other abnormalities found around the breasts. The doctor cannot tell from only a clinical breast exam whether the breast lump is a cyst or not. The female may need another test to verify that. This is generally either an imaging test or fine-needle aspiration procedure.
Breast ultrasound can help the doctor check whether a breast lump is fluid-filled or solid. A fluid-filled area usually indicates a breast cyst. A solid-appearing mass most likely is a noncancerous lump, such as a fibroadenoma, but solid lumps also could be breast cancer. The doctor may recommend a biopsy to evaluate the mass which appears solid. If the doctor can feel a breast lump easily, he may then skip the breast ultrasound test and just perform the fine-needle aspiration instead.
During a fine-needle aspiration, the doctor inserts a very thin needle into the lump in the breast and tries to ooze out the fluid accumulated in the lump. Many times, fine-needle aspiration is carried out with an ultrasound to check for the location of the lump and the accurate placement of the needle. If some fluid comes out from the lump, the breast lump would go away and the doctor would then immediately make a breast cyst diagnosis.
If the fluid or discharge does not have blood, and the breast lump goes away, there is no further need for testing or other treatment.
If the fluid looks bloody or if the lump does not disappear, the doctor will then send a sample of the fluid for testing in the lab and refer the patient to a breast surgeon or a radiologist who is trained to perform imaging exams and procedures as follow-up treatments in such cases.
If no fluid is withdrawn from the lump, the doctor will recommend an imaging test like a diagnostic mammogram and or ultrasound. The doctor may recommend tests for cancer detection for the lump in case he suspects it.
Also Read: Breast cancer types
No treatment is required for simple breast cysts, the ones which are filled with fluid and do not cause any symptoms which are confirmed to be detected on breast ultrasound or after the fine-needle aspiration test. If the lump grows or feels different with time, visit the doctor to get it examined.
Fine-needle aspiration can help diagnose and treat breast cyst. If the doctor has removed all the fluid from the cyst during the diagnosis, the female’s breast lump disappears and the symptoms resolve. For some cases of females with breast cysts, the fluid may need to be drained more than once. Recurrent or new cysts are not uncommon. If a breast cyst persists for two to three-period cycles and also grows larger in size, visit a doctor for further evaluation.
Use of Hormone
Consuming birth control pills or oral contraceptives can help to regulate the menstrual cycles which may further help reduce the chances of recurrence of breast cysts or lumps. But because of possible risks of side effects, the over the counter options like birth control pills or other hormone therapy, like tamoxifen is usually only recommended to females with severe symptoms. Discontinuing the hormone therapy post-menopause can also help in preventing breast cysts.
Surgical removal for a breast cyst is required only in rare and unusual circumstances. Surgery may be suggested if the breast cyst gets uncomfortable and recurs repeatedly month. Surgical methods can also be considered if the breast cyst has blood-tinged fluid or shows other worse signs.
How Do I Do a Breast Self-Exam?
You will need to stand in front of a large mirror for this
- Stand undressed from the waist up in front of a mirror in a room with good lighting. Carefully look at your breasts in the mirror. If they are unequal in size or both the breasts look different in shape, it is not abnormal! Most females have slightly uneven breasts. Keep your arms relaxed by the sides and look for any changes in size, shape, or position in the breasts. Look for any discoloration or soreness in the breasts area.
- Check your nipples also and look for sores, peeling skin, or any other changes in the breasts.
- Put your hands on the hips and press down stiffly and tighten the chest muscles under your breasts. Turn from side to side so that you can check the outer parts of the breasts.
- Bend forward toward the mirror and pull inwards your shoulders and elbows forward to tighten the chest muscles so that the breasts fall forward. Look for any changes in the shape, or contour and also look for any discoloration in the breasts.
- After that, put your hands behind your head and press the hands forward. Turn from side to side to check for abnormalities or changes in outer portions of the breasts. Remember to check at the portion underneath the breasts. Then, lift your breasts with your hand to examine it.
- Do not forget to check the nipples for the discharge fluid. Put your thumb and finger on the tissue surrounding your nipple and pull toward the end of the nipple. Look if there is any discharge. Repeat on both sides of the breast.